Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined in the rush to take a knee by declaring that "we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier” when they enraged many fans by kneeling during the National Anthem. He said he would be "reaching out" to players who have "raised their voices," and the NFL will "encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest...Without black players, there would be no National Football League and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality, and oppression of black players, coaches, fans, and staff."
Predictably, that was not good enough for the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is turning his funeral eulogies for George Floyd into political attacks on President Trump, and in Houston, into a demand that the NFL rehire quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This conveniently overlooks the fact that Kaepernick has had multiple opportunities to play and blown them with his own behavior. Last year, he was given an unprecedented private tryout for all 32 NFL teams, on a Saturday when the teams are normally busy preparing for games. But after the scouts showed up, Kaepernick moved it to another venue on 30 minutes’ notice. He also spoke to the XFL and AAF, but demanded a guaranteed paycheck 80 times larger than their normal salaries.
I’d be interested to hear if Goodell is equally apologetic about the league’s oppression of players who wanted to express their deep feelings about other issues, like the ban on the Cowboys wearing stickers honoring five Dallas Police officers who were murdered by a sniper during a protest of the treatment of blacks by police in Louisiana and (again) Minneapolis. Five Dallas cops died and nine others were injured as they heroically tried to protect the lives of the people who came to denounce them. But that doesn’t fit the current media narrative, so I’ll note that the NFL has also banned expressions of support for a number of other causes, including religion, mental health, and fighting domestic violence and breast cancer. That’s because they all violate the league’s ban on using uniforms to convey any unapproved messages on game day:
This stems from the original concept that’s gotten lost in all the fury and finger-pointing: when players are in the stadium, they’re in their workplace, representing their employers. Contrary to claims, Kaepernick never had his First Amendment rights taken away. That only prevents the government from censoring you. He was free to speak out on any subject on his own time, on radio, TV or a soapbox in the park. But he wasn’t allowed to stage divisive political protests that alienated customers while he was at work.
If the NFL is forced to take back Kaepernick, then does that rule apply everywhere now? Say you work at a car dealership, and you have some controversial opinions on social issues that you’re so passionate about, you feel you must force customers to listen to them before they can test drive a car, or make your colleagues sit through them every time they come into work. So now, you no longer have to worry about being sent to HR or fired with cause, you can just keep on doing it? How long do you think that dealership will remain in business?
Allowing these divisive protests in a place where fans traditionally came to escape from politics, put aside differences and root for their teams cratered NFL TV ratings. In the past few seasons, ratings have crept up again, largely because of the divisive politics finally receding. Goodell now wants to bring it all back with a vengeance.
This brings up another question, asked countless times by former NFL fans: How has Roger Goodell kept his job? He normally makes about $40 million a year; although during the pandemic shutdown, he agreed to reduce his salary to zero, and many of us think he’s finally being paid what he’s worth. His admitted wrong decisions (which he’s now been on both sides of) have cost the league billions, driven away fans and seriously harmed its reputation. He even admits he was in charge during years of “oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff." If you did that to your employer’s business, would you still be employed?
Several prominent business leaders, such as the CEO of the Second City comedy troupe, have found themselves so wracked with white guilt that they’ve resigned their own jobs so they can be replaced by a black applicant. In that spirit, Goodell should step down to be replaced by a black former NFL player.
I nominate Burgess Owens.